Farewell, Auntie Lil

Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux (1915-2016)

Last autumn we lost our aunt, who lived to be 101 years old. The various stories behind the above drawing presented a puzzle for us but after comparing memories we finally decided that the sketch was probably drawn on one of Auntie’s cruises. She kept it hanging above her bed for as long as I can remember, flanked on either side with the senior high school pictures of my sister and me.

Following is the obituary I wrote for the newspapers:

Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux, 101, of Storrs, Connecticut, died on October 27, 2016, at Mansfield Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation, after a short illness.

Lillian was born on January 30, 1915 in New York City, the daughter of the late William & Katherine (Fusiak) Chomiak, both immigrants from Ukraine. She married Leo Oscar Rioux on November 30, 1934 at Montville, Connecticut. Her husband died on June 5, 1957, leaving her a widow for 59 years. Lillian was predeceased by their two sons, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984) and Lance William Rioux (1950-1979).

Lillian was also predeceased by six siblings, Mary Riback, Jon Stephen Chomiak, Augustine Chomiak, Augusta Jean Hereth, Olga Chomiak, and Theodore William Chomiak. She is survived by her sister, Ludmila Sabatiuk of West Virginia, her grandchildren, Leo Rioux, Jr. of Montville and Sarah James of Tennessee, seven nieces and nephews, four great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandson.

Lil was a graduate of Norwich Free Academy and was a seamstress employed at Hendel Manufacturing Company in New London for many years. She was a long time resident of Montville and later moved to Juniper Hill Village in Storrs to live closer to her brother. An avid traveler, beach bum and shell collector, she loved to sew, cook, grow orchids, do jigsaw puzzles and work with her hands.

A memorial gathering will be planned for next spring. Memorial donations can be made to Mansfield Town Senior Center, 303 Maple Rd, Storrs, CT 06268.

We had our memorial gathering for her on May 6, spreading her ashes on the graves of her parents and her husband and two sons, as she had directed. My Aunt Em read to us her memories of Aunt Lil’s earlier years.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s parents, William Chomiak (1882-1965) & Katherine Fusiak (1887-1943), Comstock Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut

Every year on Memorial Day, my father would drive Aunt Lil to these two adjacent cemeteries, so she could plant geraniums in front of the headstones, each one a different shade of red or pink. When my father could no longer drive, my sister and brother-in-law stepped in to take her. As he has been doing for years now, John once again planted the geraniums that meant so much to her, this time with family spreading ashes and telling stories.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s older son, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

The story Auntie told me was that it was not permitted for her to be buried in the Catholic cemetery with her husband and sons because she never converted to Catholicism. But she married a Catholic and had her sons baptized in the church. It was her wish to join them in the cemetery by spreading her ashes on their graves.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s husband, Leo Oscar Rioux (1913-1957), and their younger son, Lance William Rioux (1950-1979), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

At the last grave Tim read a poem my sister Beverly wrote in memory of Auntie for the occasion.

They were worker’s hands, never soft, never still.
It took me fifty years to catch them, hold them, keep them safe and warm.
A thousand times I watched them go:
knit and purl
peel and chop
turn the pages
stir the pot.

If hands could talk what would they say?
It took me fifty years to hear them, know them, find out how they spoke.
A thousand times I felt their love:
show and tell
hug and pat
acts of kindness
pet the cat.

I’d come to love her knobby hands
that always showed me what to do.
How those hands have touched my life!
They’ve one more job before they’re through:
stitch and mend
my broken heart.

~ Beverly Chomiak
(Her Hands)

Then we all went to eat at one of her favorite restaurants, Old Tymes in Norwich, finishing the meal with dishes of Auntie’s favorite black raspberry ice cream. ❤

sunshine on a rainy day

1.31.16 ~ Essex, Connecticut

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted much of anything besides quotes and paintings. That’s mainly my way of coping with stress, distracting myself with beautiful images and wise words.

Tim has been ill with recurring bouts of diverticulitis for several years now, getting more frequent and more severe this fall, and so the decision has finally been made to proceed with surgery, a sigmoid colon resection. Friday. My sister is coming to stay with me and sit with me during the operation. Larisa and Katie will be coming up after Tim gets home from the hospital. Recovery time is expected to be 4-6 weeks.

1.31.16 ~ Essex, Connecticut

We had our basement renovated this fall. I’m thrilled with the results — we now have heat in the guest room and the powder room and two new closets for storage and updated lighting and electrical outlets and fresh paint on the walls. But being the way I am it was stressful for me having noisy workmen in and out of the house at unpredictable times. I had to give myself a pep talk every morning for several weeks to keep my wits about me. But it was worth it in the end.

My aunt Lil died on October 27. She was 101 years old. I still have unresolved and complicated feelings about our relationship. She had a hard life, becoming a widow at an early age and then losing both her sons, one in a car accident at the age of 29 and the other from a fatal heart attack at the age of 48. Perhaps understandably, she became a very bitter person, and I had sympathy for her at times but it was so difficult spending time with her.

1.31.16 ~ Essex, Connecticut

And then there is the dark cloud hanging over our country now…

But…

1.1.17 ~ Larisa and Katherine enjoy taking selfies for the grandparents, even on rainy days. They’re coming to visit soon!

I am full of gratitude to be living so close to many places where I can go and find grounding and healing in the natural world. And when I cannot get outside I hear the song birds singing, the gulls calling, the Canada geese honking — I love that sound — and enjoy the lovely water-reflected light that flows indoors.

There are many blessings we continue to enjoy, including our darling granddaughter. We’re looking forward to having her puttering around the house while Tim is recovering. Like her mother, our amazing daughter, she is a sweet ray of sunshine, even on a rainy day. 🙂

And our wonderful son, the computer wizard, who lovingly keeps things running smoothly here on my blog. I couldn’t maintain a presence here without him funding and watching over the many things that I fail to understand in the technical world. We had to cancel a January trip to Georgia to see him and his family, because of the surgery, but will reschedule as soon as possible. 🙂

I am surrounded with love and present moment awareness. Life is here/now.

one hundred years

Aunt Lil (with her great-grandniece Katie) on her 100th birthday
1.30.15 ~ Aunt Lil (with her great-grandniece Katie) on her 100th birthday

For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(Poems & Other Writings)

birthday #99

1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Aunt Lil and her great-granddaughter, Ashleigh ~ 1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Thursday Tim & I briefly came out of our seclusion to attend my aunt’s 99th birthday party at the nursing home she moved into last August, a few weeks before my father died. It was heartwarming that so many of those who love her were able to take off of work or school to attend an afternoon party on a Thursday, so she wouldn’t be too tired to enjoy one later in the day.

1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
the collage Ashleigh made for the occasion ~ 1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Auntie’s doctor approved the celebration and gave her permission to have as much champagne, cheesecake and black raspberry ice cream as she desired.

1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
good job blowing out the candles on the birthday cheesecake ~ 1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

I had not visited Auntie at the nursing home since August because of the illnesses and deaths of my father and Tim’s brother. She looks better than I thought she might have and I was pleased and relieved to see that she is being well cared for. Hopefully we can visit more often now that the dust is beginning to settle around here.

1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Aunt Em and Aunt Lil entertained us with stories from their “hen party” days. When I was a child, my four aunts, Mary, Jean, Lil and Em, their cousin, Aunt Julia and her friend Stella, and my mother would gather at Aunt Em’s house when she lived in New Jersey. In January because most of their birthdays fell in that month. They would go into “the city” (New York) for the day and evening and leave us children with the fathers and uncles.

The fathers and uncles let us get away with all kinds of mischief. They’d be watching football on TV and drinking beer. One time one of the cousins tried to do a somersault over a chin-up bar and whacked his head on the ceiling in the process. Uncle Andy exclaimed, “Now that’s what I call using your head!” We laughed about that bit of irony for hours…

My Aunt Jean was the first of the gang to die, in 1986. She was my favorite aunt – we shared a birthday, a love of cats and children, the color purple (when I grew up blue became my favorite color), a lot of personality traits, and the A, RH-negative blood type. And now I’ve learned that she also shared my sensitivity to alcohol. It didn’t take much to get her tipsy and very sleepy. Aunt Em and Aunt Lil remembered one time when she fell asleep with her head on the table at a luncheon. And another time when she got home she climbed into the crib with her son and they eventually found her sleeping there.

1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Aunt Em and Aunt Lil ~ 1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Aunt Em took the train up here from Maryland – she usually drives, but not in the winter. If I live to be 86 I hope I will be as vivacious as she is! Aunt Em and Aunt Lil are the last surviving siblings of the eight children their parents had.

1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Chelsea and Aunt Lil ~ 1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Chelsea is the wonderful caregiver who worked full time for us for a year, until my father died, making it possible for Aunt Lil and my father to live at home. We all became very attached to her, especially Auntie.

1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
a quiet moment with my sister, Beverly ~ 1.30.14 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

When it was time to go I got a big long hug from my Auntie and we both started crying and told each other, “I love you.” Beverly had explained to her about Toby’s untimely death and she seemed to understand what a rough time we’ve been having. She held hands with Tim for a moment.

What an emotional roller-coaster we’ve been on this past year…  Like my sister, I wish I had the resources to care for our aunt at home but I’m relieved to know she’s safe and well cared for. And I hope she will treasure happy memories of her 99th birthday party.

crossing the bridge

2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Papa walking on his path in the woods ~ 2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

As many of you already know, my father died peacefully at home, in his sleep, on September 19. I’m still in a daze and it still seems like a dream. When I finally got to bed after he died, I started thinking it would be nice to have a memorial for him on my mother’s birthday, October 17, at the cemetery where his ashes will be buried next to hers. The next morning my sister called me and said she hoped I would like her idea, and her idea turned out to be the exact same idea that I had. So it was settled.

2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

When we were little we always went to visit our beloved grandparents on Cape Cod for our mother’s birthday. So we are both looking forward to one last trip up there with Papa, bringing his ashes in a beautiful biodegradable wooden box my sister found for him. The gravedigger will have the earth ready for him before we arrive and we will all stand in a circle and say whatever we want to say before we lay him to rest. I’ve never planned a funeral or memorial before, and I’ve never been an executrix before, either. For some reason the planning is comforting.

2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

We’re renting a large house nearby. Even though it was closed for the season the owner has kindly opened it up for this special occasion. When the owner sent an email to confirm the days, he wrote, “We should be ready for you to check in anytime after 1:00, but give us a call when you cross the bridge and we will meet you at the house.” When I read this it made me cry. All Cape Codders and all of us who love the Cape know what “when you cross the bridge” means. And the funny thing is there are two bridges crossing the Cape Cod Canal, and either one will do.

1953 ~ Montville, Connecticut
Bachelor of Arts in Bacteriology ~ 1953 ~ Montville, Connecticut

The first three pictures were taken by me in 2001. In 2000 my father fell and crushed several vertebrae. He was in the hospital for a while and needed to use his cane afterwards. Papa had made a trail meandering through the woods on his property and he maintained it while taking his daily walks. Walking through the woods with him countless times is a memory I will always treasure. He would use his cane as a pointer as he identified various nuts, leaves, wildflowers or the entrance to an animal’s den. Or he would point it up into the tree canopy when he heard a familiar bird call. The cane was carved and used by his father and now I have it for safekeeping.

1983 ~ ?
Easter, 1983, my parents

Sadly, in 2007 Papa fell again, this time breaking his femur and his pelvis. He never made a good recovery from that unfortunate accident. There were no more walks in the woods. He was mostly in a wheelchair after that and suffered from dementia. The last six years have been so difficult for all of us, but especially for him. When I found these pictures taken at an earlier, happier time, they helped me to overlay the recent memories with more pleasant ones.

September 1985 ~ ?
Labor Day, 1985, my parents with three of my aunts

Many thanks to our Aunt Em, who came up to visit us from Maryland last weekend, and to visit Aunt Lil, too, who seems to be doing as well as can be expected in the nursing home. Aunt Em brought and gave us some of her pictures – the last three are from her.

effulgent

8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
dragonfly ~ 8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

Is it a mistake to look to the world to tell us the meaning of our plummeting lives? Maybe we all have the power to shape our own structure, the structure of our metaphoric wings, what lifts us – our character maybe, call it our spirit. We all in our own ways catch the light of the world and reflect it back, and this is what is bright and surprising about a person, this rainbow shimmer created from colorless structure. Maybe there is no meaning in the world itself – no sorrow. In fact, no good or bad, beginning or end. Maybe what there is, is the individual way each of us has of transforming the world, ways to refract it, to create of it something that shimmers from our spread wings. This is our work, creating these wings and giving them color.
~ Kathleen Dean Moore
(Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature)

Time seems to fly by so quickly, and yet, each day seems so long in the living. Especially in August. Please! One crisis at a time!!!

8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

Near the end of August my sister and I finally and reluctantly decided that our aunt, who is 98, required more care than we could reasonably provide for her. The family doctor pulled some strings and found her a place in a “good” nursing home, much to our relief. She is now “settled in” there.

Our father, who is 91, is doing a little better, but is still on oxygen and remains very weak. So far my sister and brother-in-law feel they can manage him at home. He will probably never walk again, even with his walker… But I have to keep a watchful eye on my sister’s well-being – she has done more for the ancient ones than most people, including myself, would have or could have done.

8.31.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

At the end of the month I spread my wings and accepted my daughter’s invitation to fly to North Carolina to visit her and my son-in-law in their new digs. It was the first time I flew by myself, although I had a flash of insight on the plane – I wasn’t flying by myself at all – there were many other people on board, fellow humans all with their own ways of transforming the world. All of us one. The flights there and back were spiritual highs for me!

8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
Larisa at Sarah P. Duke Gardens ~ 8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

Visiting Dima & Larisa for five days was wonderful! Very humid weather put something of a damper on outdoor adventures, but we had fun gardening in the early morning hours and decorating the living room and kitchen together one fun afternoon. We explored Durham in the air-conditioned car and talked and talked and talked. And had some great meals out and even better meals from their kitchen and grill. Had loads of fun taking pictures! I also came home with a lot of spider and mosquito bites for souvenirs. 🙂

8.31.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
tropical quail (?), Magic Wings Butterfly House at the Museum of Life & Science ~ 8.31.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

The trip did me a world of good – thank you so much for your gracious hospitality and welcoming arms, my wonderful kids!

8.31.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
8.31.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

winter solstice

12.22.12 ~ Groton, Connecticut
my new reindeer ornament! ~ 12.22.12 ~ Groton, Connecticut

We will be doing a lot of celebrating this holiday season, planning to enjoy family and five different Christmas trees, including our own. Tim has a vacation this year so we’re off to visit our children and siblings soon. But first we had our winter solstice gathering here, enjoying candlelight dining, music and good conversation with dear friends on the longest night of the year.

12.22.12 ~ Groton, Connecticut
12.22.12 ~ Groton, Connecticut

On Saturday Tim & I and Dima & Larisa went to celebrate with my sister, brother-in-law, aunt and father at their little house in the Connecticut woods. My sister has been dreaming of a boxwood Christmas tree and this turned out to be the year she found one! Isn’t it pretty? So simple and sweet. I think she may be planning to plant it outside in the spring.

12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

The ancient ones were delighted to see Larisa and seemed to be enjoying the festivities, but we didn’t stay too long because they do tire out from all the bustling excitement of having company. The four of them will be having a quiet Christmas dinner on the 25th. We’ll be heading for New York, Virginia and Georgia.

12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Auntie and Larisa ~ 12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

I brought Dad some clementines and fondly watched him enjoy peeling and eating one. Sometimes I hesitate to share pictures of him because part of me wants to remember him the way he looked when I was a child…

12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Papa ~ 12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After my mother died Dad and I used to drive up to Cape Cod to visit her parents, my beloved grandparents. He always brought along a little supply of fruit. As I was the driver, he would cut the fruit into bite size pieces with his pocket knife and share them with me, popping mine into my mouth so I wouldn’t have to take my hands off the steering wheel.

Most of the time Larisa was with us, riding in the back seat, and sometimes Auntie would come, too. One summer day when we were using the air conditioning in the car, Larisa had brought some chocolate with her. We stopped at a rest area to use the facilities and she left her chocolate in the car. When we returned to the car she was very disappointed to find her chocolate melted into a gooey puddle. But not to worry! Grandpa took that glob of chocolate and held it out close to the air conditioning vent in the dashboard for many miles until the chocolate had hardened up again. If his arm got tired he never mentioned it. That’s grandfather love for you!

We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle. Many of the hearts that throbbed so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their lustre in the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstances connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but yesterday! Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home!
~ Charles Dickens
(The Pickwick Papers)

Marsh Light Manor

10.12.12 ~ Old Lyme, Connecticut
Marsh Light Manor at Lookout Hollow created by Lori & Edward Lenz ~ 10.12.12 ~ Old Lyme, Connecticut

Luka built this manor house for his wife Inza and their family of light fareies at the base of this tree from the river rocks and marsh grasses. He created porches and windows to view and capture the light as it dances across the water. Mirrors and magic help Luka and his wife to “bottle” the light. Each of the children take turns delivering a month of special light to the plein-air artists who capture its distinct glow in paint.
~ Wee Faerie Village: Land of Picture Making

Now that some of the excitement has passed by, at least for us, I hope to share a few more fairy house posts in the coming days…

Auntie was transferred to a rehab center last week, a day or two after the storm. She’s able to walk a little and is making some progress in physical therapy there. We finally got up to see her yesterday and were grateful to know that she had some visitors in the hospital and at the rehab center.

Dad is on antibiotics now for bronchitis and we stopped by to see him, too, and showed him our storm pictures on the TV screen. He was somewhat impressed, but decided that the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 he survived when he 16 was far more destructive. He wasn’t feeling too well, but it was good to visit with him anyway.

We are overflowing with gratefulness for the gift of a wonderful young woman named Chelsea, who was hired to help out with Dad and Auntie’s care in September. What an awesome blessing she has been to our family! She has sat with Auntie in the hospital and at the rehab center, and darted back and forth between those places and the house, to give attention to both of the ancient ones. She has been a cheerful, hard-working, kind, calming and pleasant presence to have around and has gotten us through this difficult stretch, even coming in the evening and on the weekends. Thank you so much, Chelsea!!!

timing

I am soooooooooooooooooooooo tired……………..

It was only ten days ago that Auntie came home from the hospital with eight stitches or staples in the back of her head, on the mend, and a few days ago when her doctor removed them in his office. Yesterday Tim & I finished preparing for the big storm and went to bed, content that we were as ready for it as anyone could be.

We only had two hours of sleep when the phone rang. Auntie had fallen yet again and this time she broke her hip or her pelvis. The local hospital felt she would get better care at a bigger hospital so off we went in the wee hours of this morning for another long vigil at an emergency department until they found a bed for her so she could be admitted. When they transferred her from the gurney to the bed, as gently as possible, her cries and screams of pain tore my heart open…

After Auntie got settled and we felt satisfied that she was in good hands we had no choice but to leave her there. The sun was rising behind the gathering clouds – a monster storm is on its way. I saw on the news this evening that the hospital was calling in extra staff and testing its generators in preparation. Governor Malloy has declared a state of emergency. He said the storm is a hurricane blending with a nor’easter and that we could have an eight foot storm surge. The barometric pressure is forecast to be so low it will break all the record lows in this state.

I still haven’t been able to sleep. And now I have an earache.

Must get a cup of green tea and honey and then some sleep now, but I hope to have some time tomorrow to visit blogs and respond to comments. I have much catching up to do in the blogosphere, at least until we lose power! Good night all – things will surely look brighter in the morning.